Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Things that need saying

Something else that in my humble opinionneeds to be said: with all due respect Mr. Vice President, you're a fucking asshole.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The last thing we need

Much as I hate to admit it, the right-wing wackos who hang out on Rand Simberg's blog were apparently right about Michael Moore. Sigh.

A happy day for HMOs

It's a happy day if you're an HMO. The Supreme Court has ruled that HMOs cannot be sued in state court for damages arising from witholding medical care against a doctor's orders. HMOs can now only in Federal court, where awards are capped at the cost of the care withheld.

If you think this through, this makes it fiscally irresponsible for an HMO to pay for any medical care at all! If they pay then they're out the money. But if they don't pay then the worst case scenario for them is that they have to pay out that exact same amount of money. And, of course, if they don't pay then they have all sorts of opportunities to avoid paying forever, like if the care really did turn out to be unnecessary, or of the patient doesn't decide to sue for one reason or another, or if they prevail in court.

Of course, if an HMO really stopped paying altogether they'd probably stop getting customers, so the wisest course of action for an HMO now is to pay out the bare minimum necessary to keep up the appearance that the HMO is not just a scam. But any more than that and the HMO faces a lawsuit by its stockholders. I wonder if the damages would be capped in that case.

Slip-slidin' away

Once again the Supreme Court refuses to toss a line to a country continuing to slide down the slippery slope towards Nazism and the day when a citizen may no longer legally refuse a police officer who demands, "Let me see your papers."

Where have you gone Harry Blackmun? A nation turns its frightened eyes to you.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

An unlikely advocate of states' rights

I am a second class citizen again. As an atheist, I cannot in good conscience declare my allegiance to "the flag of the United States of America, one nation under God" because I do not believe that there is any God for this nation to be under. For a while, the U.S. Court of Appeals recognized what has always seemed like a no-brainer to me: the inclusion of the words "under God" in the Pledge is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. But three days ago the Supreme Court overturned the decision on the grounds that the person who brought the suit had no standing.

Fucking cowards.

Still, some of the Justices wrote dissenting opinions declaring that the Pledge is constitutional. It makes very interesting reading. Some of the reasoning is sound, some of it is twisted, and some of it is very, very scary.

Clarence Thomas, ironically, has the most clear reasoning among the dissenters. He squarely faces the fact that:

... as a matter of our precedent, the Pledge policy is unconstitutional.

But that is an unacceptable outcome to a religious fanatic like Thomas, so he goes on to rewrite the law in a most interesting way:

I believe, however, that Lee was wrongly decided. Lee depended on a notion of “coercion” that, as I discuss below, has no basis in law or reason. The kind of coercion implicated by the Religion Clauses is that accomplished “by force of law and threat of penalty.” 505 U. S., at 640 (SCALIA, J., dissenting); see id., at 640– 645. Peer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion.

An ironic observation for a black man to make, but then Thomas was always the poster child for the proposition that even a man with dark skin can be a bigot.

But wait, there's still hope:

But rejection of Lee-style “coercion” does not suffice to settle this case. Although children are not coerced to pledge their allegiance, they are legally coerced to attend school. Cf., e.g., Schempp, supra; Engel v. Vitale, 370 U. S. 421 (1962). Because what is at issue is a state action, the question becomes whether the Pledge policy implicates a religious liberty right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

So far so good. Here's the scary part:

I accept that the Free Exercise Clause, which clearly protects an individual right, applies against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. See Zelman, 536 U. S., at 679, and n. 4 (THOMAS, J., concurring). But the Establishment Clause is another matter. The text and history of the Establishment Clause strongly suggest that it is a federalism provision intended to prevent Congress from interfering with state establishments.

So on Thomas's view, the First Amendment is not there to insure individual freedom of religion. It is there to prevent Congress from interfering with the rights of the states to establish official State religions!


Does Thomas not recall that we fought a civil war over this very issue? The civil war was not about slavery per se, it was about states' rights.

How ironic that one hundred and forty years after the issue was settled that states' rights are being resurrected by a black man named Tom. You couldn't sell that story as a movie.

The rules of Republican politics

The LA Times (and every other newspaper in the world) reports:

One day after the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks reported it could find 'no credible evidence' of cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda in targeting the United States, President Bush today held to his repeated declarations that the two were connected.

'The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda,' the president said.

...there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda."

Well, you know what? Since 9/11 there have been numerous contacts between the United States and Al Qaeda too. And numerous contacts between the United States and the Taliban. And there were numerous contacts between the United States and Saddam Hussein for a period extending over decades. And unlike Saddam's refusal to cooperate with Al Qaeda, the United States supplied weapons to Saddam. (I believe that we actually supplied him with WOMD, though I could be wrong about that and I don't feel like looking it up right now.)

The point is that Bush's use of the word "contacts" in the context of justifying the war implies a cooperation between Saddam and Al Qaeda for which there is no evidence whatsoever. For Bush to continue to cling to this rationale is disingenuous in the extreme. Not that this is at all surprising. This is the way it is with Republicans since Herbert Hoover refused to take any action to halt the spread of the Great Depression. Rule #1 of Republican politics: Republicans are never wrong. (Rule #2 is: when Republicans are wrong, see rule #1.)

Hey ho, Bush must go!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Shhh... we're hunting wabbits (on Mars)

Another wonderful example of science at work, the great Mars bunny hunt. This example really show's Occam's razor at work. Even though we lack conclusive proof, the simplest explanation is probably correct.